Managers appoint staff, leaders cultivate a committed following
If you have no followers, then what are you really leading? This is more true than ever in an era of globalised teams, often virtual in nature, and with different sub-cultures in play. The Centre for Creative Leadership identified leading a team as one of the most significant challenges facing the modern leader across the globe. So, if you’re leading a team, how can you cultivate a committed following?
There are a number of behaviours or actions leaders can take to cultivate a committed following.
1. Accentuate the positive
Various research studies have highlighted the number one fear of managers and professionals at work as “the fear of being found out.” Sometimes referred to as imposter syndrome, it paints a picture of many people lacking confidence in the workplace and deep down questioning whether they are doing a good job. This is reinforced in many organisations by the emphasis on only giving feedback when there is bad news, and using personal development conversations to focus on weaknesses, rather than further enhance strengths. This cultural focus can only increase the fear of being ‘found out.’
Good leaders emphasise what’s going well, and deliver bad news constructively. But most importantly, they focus staff development on the strengths of team members, how to bring them into play more, and further enhance them. After all, we wouldn’t dream of saying to a comedy actress “you’re great at comedy, but you suck at acting serious parts. So we’re going to put you in more serious productions to develop this.” Our actress is unlikely to be motivated by such an approach, so why do this at work?
2. Role model what you seek
The best way to inspire people to follow you is to behave in line with what you’re looking for. As Gandhi said, you should “be the change you want to see.” Leaders need to role model what they are looking for, and practice what they preach to others. Your team will look primarily at your behaviour for clues about what to do, so if you don’t back up your words with actions, the result is likely to be few followers.
There’s an old saying that “what you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” Remember this at all times.
3. Be Real
Effective leaders are themselves, warts and all. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not. In business, the likes of Lord Sugar, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson don’t put any false pretences on. They simply are themselves. People don’t follow people who have masks on. We’ve all seen leaders who try to put masks on, for example by pretending to consult when they don’t really mean it. Sooner or later, the mask is seen through.
It’s not always easy to be real. It takes self-awareness to realise when we are and are not being real. It also takes courage at times to act on our awareness. Being real entails recognising that, no matter what our personality preferences, we can be an effective leader.
4. Encourage self-direction
You can only cultivate a committed following if they think you care about and value them. The best way to show this is to give people a licence to do things, to free them up, rather than micromanage them. The vast majority of staff want to do a good job, and there is usually more than one way of doing it. Consider how team members can be equally effective, yet have very different ways of doing things. If you spend less time stopping people from doing things, you’ll have more time to lead them properly.
5. Be humble
No one likes to follow a cult of personality. Nor do they follow people who won’t own up to the occasional fallibility. It’s better not to pretend to have all the answers. After all, you don’t have all the answers. The antidote to this is to remain relatively humble or modest – a bit of self-deprecation now and again tends to win fans, not lose them. As long as you don’t do it all the time!
6. Encourage leadership
If it is true that good leaders surround themselves with followers, then great leaders surround themselves with leaders. Great leaders build a future vision with their people. They also remain honest about where things are currently, which includes being open about setbacks. They engage their teams in finding ways to bridge the gap, enabling the natural leadership we all have to emerge. Finally, great leaders appeal to both the emotional and the rational mind, recognising that people are different, and to bring of their best, we need to engage with all sides.
Cultivate a committed following for great leadership
There are other things to leading a team. But if you do these things, your team will be with you and you will have cultivated a committed following – and that’s a great place for a leader to be. It is worth emphasising that leadership itself is a journey, in which we either hone our skills to become a better leader, or we begin to slide. Working on the above points will ensure we continue to raise our leadership game.
This post was updated in March 2019